What we're watching – Freeway Series

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– The first of two series between the Braves and Red Sox kicks off with
a battle of Japanese starters, as Kenshin Kawakami and Daisuke
Matsuzaka will take the mound at Fenway tonight. Kawakami is 3-5 with a
4.54 ERA, but he hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any of
this last eight starts and he’s 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in his two
interleague starts to date. Dice-K, who had his last start interrupted
by a rain delay, is 1-4 with a 7.55 ERA. He could use a strong outing
to guarantee that he’s kept in the rotation following John Smoltz’s
return next week.

– A White Sox-Reds game doesn’t qualify as a banner matchup, but with Hawk Harrelson set to miss the game, at least one of the two teams could have a watchable broadcast for once.

That Jose Contreras was able to hold the Tigers and Brewers to three
hits over 16 scoreless innings in his last two starts suggests he’ll
have no problem tonight with a Reds team that has scored 35 runs in 13
games.

As expected,
Ryan Hanigan is back batting eighth tonight after raising his OBP to
.406 by reaching three times as a No. 5 hitter Thursday. Just what was
he thinking?

– After losing 3-2 on Wednesday and 3-0 on Thursday, the Yankees
will face a pitcher they’ve never seen before in a third straight game
as the Marlins thrown Sean West tonight. West, a 6-foot-8 left-hander,
will be making his sixth big-league start after going 2-1 with a 3.00
ERA in the first five. He is wild, but the league is hitting just .165
against him. Andy Pettitte will start for the Bombers.

Game of the Night

L.A. Dodgers and L.A. Angels – The Angels are taking a seven-game
winning streak into their series against the Dodgers, and they’ll have
the added boost of getting Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero back in
the lineup tonight. Still, it’s not likely to be easy to beat Chad
Billingsley, who is 3-0 this month and 9-3 with a 2.72 ERA for the
season. He is 1-2 lifetime against the Angels, but that comes with a
2.45 ERA in 22 innings. Seven-game winner Joe Saunders will get the
ball for the Angels.

Andrelton Simmons is absolutely freaking ridiculous

Associated Press
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I’ve been watching Andrelton Simmons play shortstop since he came up with the Braves back in 2012. From the moment he burst onto the scene it was clear that he was an otherworldly defensive talent. His arm was incredible. His range was astonishing. His sense of where he was on the field and his instincts about what to do with the ball were unmatched.

I’ll admit, however, that I’ve seen him less in the past couple of seasons than I used to. It’s understandable: he no longer plays for my favorite team and he now plays most of his games after old men like me go to bed back east. The numbers have shown that he’s still the best defensive shortstop around and the highlights which get circulated are still astounding, but I’ve not appreciated him on a day-to-day level like I once did.

But that just makes me more grateful for the highlights when I miss him in action. Like this one, from last night’s game against the Astros. You can see it in high resolution here, but if you can’t click over there, here’s the play as it was tweeted around:

I didn’t see last night’s game, but my friend Dan Lewis tweeted this out a bit. His observations about it in this thread explain why what Simmons is doing here is so amazing:

The lay-outs, the bobble-saves, the jump-throws and all of that spectacular stuff are understandably appreciated, but the various skills Simmons displayed in just this one play — not to mention the freakin’ hustle he displays backing up third base after it all — is just astounding.

There hasn’t been one like him for a while. We should all appreciate him while he’s still in his prime.

The Braves are leaning toward keeping Brian Snitker as manager

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Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported over the weekend that the Braves are leaning toward keeping Brian Snitker as manager. Part of that comes after team meetings between Snitker and top brass. Some of it, however, is likely attributable to player sentiment, with Bob Nightengale of USA Today reporting this morning that Freddie Freeman and several Braves players have told the Braves front office that they want Snitker back.

Is it a good idea to bring Snitker back? Eh, I’m leaning no, with the caveat that it probably doesn’t make a huge difference in the short term.

The “no” is based mostly on the fact that Snitker has had a disturbing trend of preferring veterans over young players, as Bradley explains in detail here. For a brief moment this summer the Braves seemed surprisingly competitive. Not truly competitive if anyone was being honest, but they were hovering around .500 and were arguably in the wild card race. Around that time he made a number of questionable decisions that favored marginal and/or injured veterans over some young players who will be a part of the next truly competitive Braves team, likely messing with their confidence and possibly messing with their development.

These moves were not damaging, ultimately, to the 2017 Braves on the field — they were going to be under .500 regardless — but it was the sort of short-term thinking that a manager for a rebuilding team should not be employing. Part of the blame for this, by the way, can be put on the front office, who only gave Snitker a one-year contract when they made him the permanent manager last year, creating an incentive for him to win in 2017 rather than manage the club the way a guy who knows when the team will truly be competitive should manage it. Then again, if Snitker was so great a candidate in the front office’s mind, why did they only give him a one-year contract?

I suspect a lot of it has to do with loyalty. Snitker has been an admirable Braves company man for decades, and that was certainly worthy of respect by the club. That he got the gig was likewise due in part to the players liking him — the veteran players — and they now are weighing in with their support once again. At some point, however, loyalty and respect of veterans has to take a back seat to a determination of who is the best person to bring the team from rebuilding to competitiveness, and Snitker has not made the case why he is that man.

Earlier, of course, I said it probably doesn’t matter all that much if they do, in fact, bring Snitker back. I say this because he will, in all likelihood, be given a short leash again, probably in the form of a one-year extension. It would not surprise me at all if, in the extraordinarily likely event the Braves look to be outclassed in the division by the Nationals again in 2018, they made a managerial switch midseason, as they did in 2016. If that is, indeed, the plan, it seems like the front office is almost planning on losing again in 2018 and using the future firing of Snitker as a time-buying exercise. Not that I’m cynical or anything.

Either way, I don’t think Snitker is the right guy for the job. Seems, though, that he’ll get at least an offseason and a couple of months to prove me wrong.